A 10-year-old actor has made history as the youngest person to ever receive an Emmy nomination… and he’s also the first Black Deaf actor receiving the nomination as well.
Keivonn Woodward had a guest role in HBO’s “The Last of Us” as Sam, a character who was not Deaf in the video game, but was changed to be Deaf with Woodward’s casting. It was Woodward’s first role, and the showrunners highly praised his work.
“He was astonishing,” showrunner Craig Mazin said on HBO’s “The Last of Us” podcast. “I have never been in a circumstance where a kid, who has never really acted on film before, shows up and is so naturally good at it. He was a joy to have around, and a total dream. He’s incredible and I cannot wait to see more from him. I hope that when people watch this episode, here in Hollywood and in our business, that they don’t just stop at the end of it and go, ‘Boy, that kid was really good playing the character of Sam’. I hope that they go, ‘That kid ought to be in a lot of things.’”
His mother, April Jackson-Woodard, is also Deaf, and told Deadline that everyone on set was highly supportive of her son.
“Bella [Ramsey] really became like a big sister, she knew [a bit of] British Sign Language, so she also picked up some American Sign Language as well, without the interpreter. Pedro [Pascal], he was able to [receptively] understand and give hugs and [friendly] gestures,” Woodard said. “But Lamar [Johnson, who plays his older brother in the show], we were almost like brothers. We would play video games and chat using technology. A lot of [the cast] learned sign language, even though we didn’t ask anybody to do anything. It was an amazing experience. A good representation of what the world should be, everybody, interacting and communicating regardless of anything.”
After the Emmy nominations were announced, it was a thrilling moment for the entire family — and the Deaf community.
“People kept sending messages, and I cried immediately because I never thought or dreamed it would happen to my son. You know, I never even considered it.” she said. “After Keivonn got the role, I asked myself, ‘How do I even prepare my life?’ It wasn’t easy, especially as a Black Deaf mother and also being a widow. I was trying to take care of everything on my own, but he would say, ‘Mom, I got this.’ And he did. He’s the first young Black Deaf actor to be nominated in Emmys history, on top of this being his first TV show [and major audition process]. We are completely humbled and honored.”
Actress Marlee Matlin, who is also Deaf and won a Best Actress Oscar in 1987, celebrated Woodward’s nomination on Twitter. “Congratulations to first time Deaf actor Keivonn Montreal Woodard for being the youngest Emmy nominee as Guest Actor for @TheLastofUsHBO,” she wrote. “As the youngest Best Actress winner myself for an Oscar, my hands are waving in the air for you!”
Congratulations to first time Deaf actor Keivonn Montreal Woodard for being the youngest Emmy nominee as Guest Actor for @TheLastofUsHBO. As the youngest Best Actress winner myself for an Oscar, my hands are waving in the air for you!https://t.co/FVtV9YmdvI
— Marlee Matlin (@MarleeMatlin) July 12, 2023
As for Woodward himself, he said he was initially shocked but is also aware of the “importance and huge impact” of a young Deaf Black person receiving such major accolades, and also encouraged other children like him to not be afraid to pursue their dreams.
“I think that everybody should just do their best when they’re trying to act and just go for the auditions,” he said. “Don’t worry about it, and just go ahead and try to act your best. Yes, it was hard with the facial expressions and learning how to [interpret the script for American Sign Language], but I think it’s really important to also learn to listen to your production team and to collaborate with them. I got in, and so can you.”